2019
October
24
Thursday

Our five hand-picked stories look at the fairness of the impeachment inquiry, Russia’s daunting responsibility in Syria, seeds of a pro-democracy backlash in Hungary, a prisoner who found freedom in the Commandments, and a remarkable film about humanity in war.

But first, psychologist Clive Wynne was a reluctant convert. Perhaps dogs had “exceptional gregariousness” or “hypersociability.” But did they love?

That was a controversial idea in scientific circles. To say dogs loved was to project ourselves on them, to make them human. That’s what Dr. Wynne thought. At least, until he got a dog of his own.

Dr. Wynne is among a growing number of scientists delving into the emotional lives of animals. His research suggests dogs’ superpower – their ability to coevolve with humans that care for their every need – is not intelligence, as many believed. It is love.

Human love and dog love are not the same, Dr. Wynne tells The Washington Post. “Dogs fall in love much more easily than people do, and they also seem to be able to move on much more easily than people can.” But that love will lead them to dig humans out of destroyed buildings, protect colonies of penguins in Australia, and even have a stronger positive reaction to “your owner is nearby” than “you’re going to get a piece of sausage.”

Love, it seems increasingly clear, is not merely a human thing. It is expressed more widely and with more variation than many imagined – though that’s probably something any dog owner could have told you.

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1. A ‘closed-door’ impeachment process: Three questions

As criticism flares, what does it mean to uphold fairness in an impeachment inquiry? Some experts see a need to balance transparency with some off-camera gathering of facts.

Mark

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On Wednesday, a group of Republican lawmakers pushed their way into a secure hearing room, delaying testimony in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The goal, they said, was to highlight concerns about an unfair process happening behind closed doors. Democrats called it a stunt.

Beneath the partisan bickering, some very real civic values are at stake. The perceived integrity of such a politically charged investigation may depend on balancing transparency with safeguarding a process of gathering facts.

House Democrats say closed-door sessions can help focus an inquiry by reducing the risk that witnesses will coordinate their testimonies and avoiding the temptation for lawmakers to grandstand before TV cameras. Members from the investigating committees have said they will eventually release transcripts of the depositions and hold public hearings. The inquiries into former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, they add, both had independent prosecutors to conduct private interviews of witnesses.

Republicans argue that withholding information so far is undermining the credibility of the process. Some outside experts agree. “If you want to create buy-in, this is not the way you go about doing it,” says congressional scholar James Wallner.

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A ‘closed-door’ impeachment process: Three questions

As the Democratic-led House impeachment probe into President Donald Trump rapidly moves forward, Republicans are increasingly crying foul – calling the process secretive and unfair.

A scene of chaos and protest unfolded on Capitol Hill Wednesday, as a group of Republican lawmakers pushed their way into a secure hearing room, violating a no-devices rule there and delaying the testimony of Pentagon official Laura Cooper by five hours. Republicans said the move was an attempt to draw attention to their concerns. Democrats called it a stunt and a distraction.

One key GOP objection: The impeachment investigation has so far taken place behind closed doors, since it began over a month ago. On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a resolution condemning the lack of transparency in the proceedings. 

Democrats point out that Republican lawmakers and staff have been in the room for all of these sessions, and have had opportunities to question the witnesses. Closed-door depositions, held without press and TV cameras present, are not an infrequent occurrence on the Hill, particularly when sensitive information may be involved. Democrats also say public hearings are coming, possibly as soon as mid-November.

Still, this is not a run-of-the-mill congressional investigation; it is an impeachment inquiry. And the Constitution sets few procedural parameters for impeachment. The only modern precedents – the investigations into Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton – involved domestic rather than foreign matters, and included criminal complaints, which shaped those proceedings differently. 

Beneath the partisan debate, some very real civic values are at stake. The perceived integrity of such a politically charged investigation may depend on finding the right balance between public transparency and safeguarding the fact-gathering process. 

What do the rules say about closed sessions in impeachment inquiries?

A deposition is a tool of congressional fact-gathering, and is different from a hearing, which is meant to get people to say things publicly, says Molly Reynolds, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, by email. “There are several reasons the House is conducting depositions and not hearings now,” she says. “One is that they are still in a fact-gathering mode. The second is that the sensitive nature of the underlying information makes it more appropriate for closed-door sessions, at least on an initial pass.”

Patrick Semansky/AP
Workers deliver food to a secure area where Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrived for a closed-door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Oct. 23, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

House Democrats add that they don’t want witnesses to be able to coordinate their testimonies. They also point out that the inquiries into Presidents Nixon and Clinton both had independent prosecutors to conduct private interviews of witnesses. Absent such a prosecutor, they say, the committees have to step into the role.

Under the Constitution, Congress is free to set its own rules and procedures – including when it comes to impeachment proceedings. Setting new rules or ignoring precedent is not a constitutional violation, says congressional scholar James Wallner at the R Street Institute, a center-right think tank in Washington.

Past presidential impeachment proceedings did involve a vote in the full House to formalize an investigation, something that hasn’t happened yet in this case. 

But there’s no rule requiring a full vote to kick-start impeachment. And committees have broad powers to set their own rules. They do have to meet specific criteria before they can hold closed sessions or depositions as part of a probe, such as whether testimony could threaten national security or incriminate the witness. Still, the majority has near-unilateral power to decide who to call in as witnesses and when those witnesses are heard.

Who’s in the room and what happens there? 

The depositions, held in a secure room in the basement of the Capitol Building, are open to Democrats and Republicans (and their staff) from the three committees undertaking the joint investigation. That’s about 100 lawmakers allowed to attend and ask questions of the witnesses. 

The depositions start with opening remarks – first from House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., then from a member of the minority, and then from the witness, according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal. After that, Democrats and Republicans each get one hour to interview the witness. Members and staff then get to ask questions in 45-minute intervals.

When Republicans ran an investigation on American deaths in Benghazi, Libya, GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy (chairing the House probe) said at the time that closed-door sessions are the most fruitful because lawmakers aren’t tugged toward grandstanding by the presence of TV cameras. 

Could closed sessions undermine public trust in the process? 

Republicans have grown increasingly unhappy with the investigation’s lack of transparency – and selective leaks that seem to be coming from Democratic members of the investigating committees. 

GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee who has attended the depositions, argues that withholding information from the public, much less the rest of the House, undermines the credibility of the process. 

“There’s a very long list of items that would make this whole process more transparent, more legitimate, more credible,” he says.

Some outside experts agree that greater openness would help widen public trust. “If you want to create buy-in, this is not the way you go about doing it,” says Mr. Wallner at the R Street Institute.

Democrats say Republicans are focusing on the process because the facts that have emerged so far have been damning. “They want the distraction,” Oversight Committee member Jamie Raskin of Maryland told reporters outside the hearing room. 

Congressman Raskin said the committee would release transcripts of the testimonies and eventually hold public hearings. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that public hearings could start as soon as the middle of November. 

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2. Russia gloats as US leaves Syria – but frets about keeping peace

Russia now has sole responsibility for playing peacemaker in Syria. But deep down, it might actually prefer the U.S. bear some of the burden, too.

Mark
Baderkhan Ahmad/AP
Syrian government forces carry a national flag as they man a checkpoint near the northern town of Tal Tamr, Syria, Oct. 22, 2019.

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The American withdrawal of troops from Syria and subsequent Russian-Turkish deal that determines the future of Syria’s Kurds have set a tone of jubilation in Moscow. Russian TV has been a virtual festival of military imagery in recent days. But Russian experts warn that the bigger picture is far more complicated than this immediate moment appears.

Tuesday’s six-hour summit meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi was remarkable, analysts say, for how much ground Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appear to have covered to mutual satisfaction. It puts Moscow in the catbird seat as the key arbiter of a future Syrian peace settlement.

But it also intensifies Russian responsibility if things go wrong. As Damascus grows impatient to complete its victory after almost eight years of civil war, it will be up to Russia to prevent the Syrian army from clashing with the Turks.

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad “is a difficult partner,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. “Sure, he’s dependent on Russia, but he increasingly feels himself to be the big winner in this situation. Mediating with him is not going to be an easy job for Moscow.”

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Russia gloats as US leaves Syria – but frets about keeping peace

Judged solely by the tone of the country’s media, it seems like Russia is euphoric over the abrupt U.S. troop withdrawal from northeast Syria.

The impromptu drawdown enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin to sit down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and hammer out an old-fashioned big-power deal that determines the future of Syria’s Kurds and might, possibly, set the stage for a lasting peace in the war-ravaged region.

That has set a tone of jubilation in Moscow. Russian TV has been a virtual festival of imagery in recent days, showing Russian mercenaries occupying a former U.S. military base in northeast Syria, U.S. planes bombing their own former ammunition dump, and angry Kurds pelting departing U.S. troops with potatoes.

“You can understand the Russian media,” says Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Moscow-based Institute for the Middle East. “The idea of ‘Yankee go home’ is a very popular, staple tradition in this country. And, indeed, it looks like the fewer Americans there are in Syria, the better it is for us.”

Most Russian experts agree with that. But they also warn that the bigger picture is far more complicated than this immediate moment appears, and the landscape is filled with potential obstacles for Russian policy as the Kremlin picks up responsibility for keeping the peace in the region.

In the catbird seat

Tuesday’s six-hour summit meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi was remarkable, analysts say, for how much ground Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdoğan appear to have covered to mutual satisfaction. Also noteworthy, they add, is the list of interested parties who did not get a seat at that table: not just the U.S., but also Iran, the Syrian government, and the Kurds.

The deal enables Mr. Erdoğan to declare victory and stop the two-week-old Turkish invasion of Syria that precipitated the crisis. The U.S.-trained Kurdish YPG forces will be required to pull back over 20 miles from the Turkish border, along a 275 mile corridor, which will henceforth be patrolled jointly by Russia and Turkey. It puts Moscow in the catbird seat as the key arbiter of a future Syrian peace settlement, but also intensifies Russian responsibility if things go wrong.

Presidential Press Service/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shake hands after a joint news conference Oct. 22, 2019, in Sochi, Russia, hours before a five-day cease-fire between Turkish troops and Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria was set to expire.

“Of course we need to pause for a deep breath,” says Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs columnist for the Moscow daily Kommersant. “Russia has done a major security deal with a leading member of NATO. It certainly looks like Putin got what he wanted, a landmark agreement that was worked out and approved in Sochi, not in Brussels or Washington. But it only came after the U.S. abandoned the field. So Russia looks like a soccer team that scores when the opposing goalkeeper is absent. For his own reasons, Donald Trump made it easy. But from now, the complications will begin to pile up.”

The text of the joint Russian-Turkish memorandum pays homage to Syria’s territorial integrity, but effectively carves out a large hunk of Syrian land – there is another in Syria’s northwest corner of Idlib – that will remain outside the control of the Damascus government for an indeterminate period to come. Not only will Kurdish forces be banned from the “safe zone,” but it is feared that the Turks will move to resettle in the new enclave some of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey, potentially changing its demographics forever. The zone may also become a permanent Turkish dependency, and an obstacle to any future efforts by Damascus to reunite the country.

“Russia has been forced to make this concession to Turkey, and it’s a major one,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal. “The very idea of a ‘safe zone’ is anathema to Russia, and it will accumulate problems in future. But there was no choice. They avoided war, and each gets something it wanted.

“There appears to be this strange symbiosis between Russia and Turkey. On one hand, there is deep and abiding mistrust between them. Yet there is a growing feeling that they need each other.”

Praise for Trump?

Surprisingly, many in Moscow disagree with those U.S. experts who assess the whole episode as an unmitigated disaster for U.S. credibility and another Trump misstep on foreign policy. In fact, some Russian analysts enthusiastically praise President Donald Trump, seeing the U.S. pullout from northeast Syria as a masterstroke that lightens the American load while shifting the responsibility for forging peace in Syria onto other players.

“Trump has made a very smart move,” says Sergei Markov, a former Putin adviser and director of the independent Institute of Political Studies in Moscow. “The Kurds cease to be his burden, he fulfills an oft-repeated election promise to get the U.S. out of Syria, and he paves the way for better relations with America’s important ally, Turkey. The furor in the U.S. media will die down, Trump will look good to all those Americans who are sick and tired of all these endless Middle Eastern wars whose purpose they can’t understand, and Syria will be someone else’s problem from now on.”

And the problems coming down the pipeline are immense.

Russia has been urging Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to complete a sweeping constitutional reform, to be followed by Syrian presidential elections in 2021. Although Moscow will be insisting that the Kurds be granted some degree of autonomy under the new constitution, recent events have conspired to reduce Kurdish bargaining power and make them more dependent on Damascus.

“As Russia sees it, there must be national reconciliation in Syria. That cannot be accomplished without major concessions to the Kurds,” says Mr. Strokan. “But Assad may not be willing to forgive the Kurds for their previous disloyalty. They find themselves in a vulnerable position right now, and there are no guarantees.”

Moreover, as Damascus grows impatient to complete its victory after almost eight years of civil war, it will be up to Russia to prevent the Syrian army from clashing with the Turks in the new Kurdish enclave, or in the Turkish-backed rebel stronghold of Idlib.

“Assad is a difficult partner,” says Mr. Lukyanov. “Sure, he’s dependent on Russia, but he increasingly feels himself to be the big winner in this situation. Mediating with him is not going to be an easy job for Moscow. It will be interesting.”

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Point of Progress

What's going right

3. Political thaw in Hungary? Orbán loses his lock on cities.

Democracies need legitimate political competition, free from interference. That hasn’t been true in Hungary for years. But the country’s opposition has found a way to revitalize its politics.

Mark

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People in the streets of Budapest, Hungary, have been in a celebratory mood since local elections boosted the opposition in a country that has moved in an autocratic direction under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s leadership. The gains, coming after nine years in which Mr. Orbán and his party won all nationwide elections, were seen as evidence that the political square can still be contested, even amid challenges posed by fake news and asymmetrical power structures.

“The surprising victory – if exploited wisely by the opposition forces – will bring politics back into Hungary,” says Daniel Hegedüs, a fellow for Central Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

The winds of change were strongest in the capital where the opposition took 14 out of 23 districts in the Oct. 13 vote. Another surprise was their victory in 10 out of 23 of Hungary’s main cities. The results, analysts concur, are in part a testament to the capacity of a fragmented opposition to set aside their differences. “There is no alternative,” says Krisztina Baranyi, who was elected mayor of Budapest’s ninth district.

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1. Political thaw in Hungary? Orbán loses his lock on cities.

It may only be October. But for many in Budapest, Christmas – Karácsony, in Hungarian – has arrived early this year.

Specifically, it has arrived with the mayoral victory of Gergely Karácsony, the opposition challenger who surprised pollsters and squarely defeated the ruling-party incumbent Istvan Tarlos in the mayoral race for Budapest. People in the streets of the Hungarian capital are wishing each other a happy Christmas in a celebratory mood.

Mr. Karácsony’s victory was the foremost of a series of municipal wins across the country, as opposition parties banded together to break a monopoly of power held by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has moved in an autocratic direction to fulfill his so-called illiberal democracy. The gains, coming after nine years in which Mr. Orbán and his party, Fidesz, won all nationwide elections, were seen as evidence that the political square can still be contested, even amid challenges posed by fake news and asymmetrical power structures.

“The surprising victory - if exploited wisely by the opposition forces - will bring politics back into Hungary,” says Daniel Hegedüs, fellow for Central Europe at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It allows the opposition to build new structures, provides them badly needed resources and the opportunity to look into past corruption patterns of Fidesz politicians in the cities conquered from the governing party.”

The winds of change were strongest in the capital where the opposition took 14 out of 23 districts in the Oct. 13 vote. Another surprise was their victory in 10 out of 23 Hungary’s main cities. The results, analysts concur, are in part a testament to the capacity of a fragmented opposition to set aside their differences. In key constituencies, the six parties rallied behind one candidate, which can make all the difference in a single round, first-past-the-post electoral system.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“In order to beat Orbán’s regime, there is no alternative but the national cooperation of all opposition,” says Krisztina Baranyi, who was elected as the mayor of Budapest’s ninth district.

Fidesz, which came to power in 2010 and has won seven elections since, still has the upper hand. It holds the majority in parliament and remains the clear favorite in rural areas. What the Oct. 13 poll revealed is a sharpened urban/rural divide not unlike that seen in the U.S. “The big cities are opposition islands in otherwise Fidesz-held rural ocean,” says Péter Krekó, director of the Political Capital Institute in Budapest.

Unexpected developments also played a role. A sex and drugs scandal erupted around Zsolt Borkai, the Fidesz mayoral candidate in Győr. The party did not kick him out, nor did he resign, and Mr. Borkai eventually won his race. But the scandal did hurt the image of Fidesz countrywide, discouraging its voters and galvanizing opposition backers.

“We cannot take it for granted that this victory will automatically lead to a defeated Fidesz in 2022,” says Mr. Krekó, also a Futures Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. “The situation of the new mayors will be quite difficult. ... On the other hand, they will have some chance if they can have some EU funds to show that there is a world without Fidesz and that they can run cities successfully.”

One of the lessons that Fidesz will take away from this setback is that the opposition is still too strong and has too much weight in the media. A tightening of the screws is more likely than any kind of softening in the years ahead. But at a minimum, the elections served to puncture Mr. Orbán’s aura of invincibility.

“Although the election results contributed to the opposition’s revival, the power structures of the illiberal Orbán regime are not shaken,” says Mr. Hegedüs. “Fidesz still enjoys the support of approximately every second active voter who would certainly cast their ballot at the next election.”

Editor's note: The story has been updated to correct a misquote of Mr. Krekó.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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The Ten

How people use the Commandments in daily life

4. ‘I have to have humility.’ How Second Commandment helped man find freedom.

Desmon Rogers turned around his life when he saw through the lure of money and drugs. Part 3 in a series looking at the Ten Commandments through modern lives.

Mark
Ann Hermes/Staff
Desmon "Dez" Rogers, shown in the home he lives in as part of a residential recovery program on Oct. 20, 2019, in Philadelphia, talks about how he became grounded in his faith during his incarceration.

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After the death of his beloved foster mother when he was a teen, Desmon Rogers says money and acceptance by a street “family,” whose business of drugs and guns led to a revolving door of lockups, became his idols.

But each time he was incarcerated, he returned to the streets. “When I came home from lockup, it was ‘where you going to sleep tonight?’” he recalled. “Each time I came home I came home to nothing. You can’t get a job.”

Mr. Rogers spoke to the Monitor at a well-worn drug treatment house in North Philadelphia as part of our series examining the ways traditional religious codes like the Ten Commandments continue to matter in the lives of ordinary people. 

The Second Commandment, and its exhortation to worship God and not idols, helped rescue Mr. Rogers from the depths. It took what he experienced as the peace and quiet of a prison cell for him to recognize the help he’d sought. “God became big in a small room,” he recalls. There, he began to understand the role his own behavior was playing in his life. Buoyed by an emerging sense that God saw good in him, he concluded that, if that were the case, he should see himself as capable of a good life.

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‘I have to have humility.’ How Second Commandment helped man find freedom.

Desmon “Dez” Rogers is the first to tell you about his long run-in with the Second Commandment. About how the false idols he bowed down to as he toggled for 30 years between the life of the streets and the life behind bars ultimately brought him to his knees. About how his thirst for money and for the feelings of validation it brought him turned out to be what he calls “grenade love” – attachments with lethal consequences. And about how, ironically, it was while imprisoned that the now middle-aged screen processor came to discover the freedom he sought for decades.

Mr. Rogers spoke to the Monitor at a well-worn drug treatment house in North Philadelphia as part of our series examining the ways traditional religious codes like the Ten Commandments continue to matter in the lives of ordinary people.

With Mr. Rogers, we discussed the Second Commandment: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. ... (Exodus 20:4.)

Mr. Rogers, who was raised in foster care, received as loving and normal a life as possible thanks to his foster mother, a protective, elderly woman who cared for him from age 11 months until her death when he was 17. “When she died, everything that was meaningful halted,” he explains. The Christmases, Easters – even the food, shelter, and clothing he’d taken for granted – disappeared.  In the foster system’s transitional, “emancipation” mode, “I fell through the cracks,” he recalls – too old technically for foster care, and too young to be on his own. He was taken in by his foster sisters, who then lived in a housing project, an environment he’d never been prepared for. “I was like one of those kids growing up in a war-torn country who finds love as a ‘child soldier,’” he says.

Money and acceptance by a street “family,” whose business of drugs and guns led to a revolving door of lockups, became his idols. At first, it felt like a safe harbor from an unwelcoming outside world. Each time he was incarcerated, he returned to the streets. “When I came home from lockup, it was ‘where you going to sleep tonight?’” he recalls. “Each time I came home I came home to nothing. You can’t get a job.”

Mr. Rogers was raised full-on Baptist – church, camp, and Bible school – by his surviving foster family, with whom he remains close, emphasizing that there is nothing “foster” about the love and emotion he and his siblings continue to share.

Over time he became turned off by church, which he felt sometimes took advantage of the issues surrounding race and poverty.  Several churches seemed to him like “a pimp game,” assuaging vulnerable congregants in their complacency and comforting them in their suffering with promises of heaven. “You leave [more broken] than you come in.”

Mr. Rogers argues for action: “You can have a better life here. You don’t have to wait until you get to heaven. You can have a life of peace here.”

While eschewing church for a less institutional spirituality, he nevertheless continued to seek what he called “the wisdom of God,” and much of the religious references of his childhood factor into his life now. “Even on the streets it was always ‘God, I’m going wrong.’ I asked God to direct me,” but still, he continued to direct himself back to the streets.

It took what Mr. Rogers experienced as the peace and quiet of a prison cell for him to recognize the help he’d sought. “God became big in a small room,” he recalls. There, he began to understand the role his own behavior was playing in his life. Buoyed by an emerging sense that God saw good in him, he concluded that, if that were the case, he should see himself as capable of a good life. “If I was always good in Your mind I realize there must be a purpose for me,” he prayed. He began to live, he says, “as if there’s a God.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
Desmon ‘Dez’ Rogers, shown on Oct. 20, 2019, in Philadelphia, says he hopes he can help younger men learn earlier in life what he learned the hard way.

A thoroughly introspective man, Mr. Rogers wrestles aloud with the mysteries, inconsistencies, and unfairness and incongruities of life, ever engaged in discovering his purpose. He has no qualms about talking about his walk. He explains, for instance, that feelings of abandonment likely underpin the tendencies to anger, frustration, and resentment that have propelled him for much of his life. But he knows it is on him to tame them. 

From his experiences has emerged a wellspring of observances, such as this one on hope: “No matter how low the foundation is, you have something to build on.”

When he wakes up in the morning and when encountering a challenge, he fortifies himself with Scripture. Recently, a verse from Isaiah, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper. Everything that rises against me shall fall,” helped when the company he works for, pushing production goals – unreasonably, he thought – provoked him. “Usually I’d say to myself, I don’t need this s---” and lose his cool. With time to get his feelings in check, he said, the anger subsided. “It wasn’t that bad. I’ve learned I have to have humility.”   

That virtue gets reinforced when he listens to Gospel Highway radio. One sermon in particular, concerning the “spirit of pride,” helped him identify what might well be his Achilles’ heel, he says, and understand the role of humility in coping with perceived disrespect.

Sister Sylvia Strahler, program officer of New Jerusalem Now, a residential recovery program where Mr. Rogers has lived since 2017, called him a “promoter of peace,” with a spiritual perspective that’s helpful to newer residents. At community meetings, she says, “He has good messages for the people. He gets them to see that there’s a better way. People that are discouraged about how things are going for them, people who are angry, who have been disrespected – he talks to them and says we have to step back and see what part we’ve played in an argument.”  

Some who know Mr. Rogers call him ”Preacher.” But he offers only caveats – his experience, not his advice – he said. He hopes that the younger men can learn earlier what he learned the hard way. Some do. One in particular sticks with him – a distraught man who was struggling with addiction who was in the program nearly a year. He was estranged from his family and ready to give up. Mr. Rogers encouraged him to stay, and he did, eventually finishing his program and reconciling with his family.

The fact that he himself has now traded his street family for the real deal brings Mr. Rogers a weekly infusion of joy. Admittedly sad sometimes about what might have been, he’s no longer consumed by bitterness and anger. “I just have a spirit of gratitude,” he says. In coming to terms with his own shortcomings, he’s more accepting of those of others. “It was just me growing up and understanding that I’ve only got one chance at life. I have to decide, ‘what is my legacy?’”

On weekdays, he gets up at 4 a.m. to take a long bus ride to work, where he works 10-hour days, returning at night to his third-floor room at New Jerusalem. Weekends, he takes the train to Wilmington, Delaware, and his own extended family, a fussing, coddling, affirming bunch that includes his 19-year-old daughter, his siblings, and many nieces and nephews.

As for his graven images, “They’re really not important to me anymore.” He’s looking down instead at what he calls the “rough side of the mountain,” and says he has climbed it with God’s grace.

Part 1: The Commandments as a moral source code in modern life

Part 2: How does the First Commandment fit in today?

Part 3: ‘I have to have humility’: How Second Commandment helped man find freedom

Part 4: One woman embraces Third Commandment in feeding 1,600 at Thanksgiving

Part 5: ‘Remember the sabbath’: How one family lives the Fourth Commandment

Part 6:Growing up is hard’: How Fifth Commandment guided a child during divorce

Part 7: Is saying ‘I’d kill for those shoes’ OK? One woman and Sixth Commandment.

Part 8: Is chastity old-fashioned? An NFL veteran’s take on Seventh Commandment.

Part 9: ‘Thou shalt not steal’: Even someone else’s joy, says one educator

Part 10: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’: Ninth Commandment goes to Princeton

Part 11: Jealousy at Ivy League level: How a law professor views Tenth Commandment

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On Film

5. ‘The Cave’: Resilience amid chaos in Syria

We are not often privy to demonstrations of perseverance in war zones. A new documentary shows how a woman serving as a physician dodged detractors and bombs to save lives in Syria. 

Mark
National Geographic
Amani Ballour, physician and hospital manager, is the focus of the documentary “The Cave,” filmed in Ghouta, Syria.
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‘The Cave’: Resilience amid chaos in Syria

The powerful documentary “The Cave” could not, alas, be more timely. Directed by Feras Fayyad, who made the remarkable 2017 documentary “Last Men in Aleppo,” the new film is about a subterranean hospital in the besieged town of Ghouta in civil war-torn Syria, where markets, schools, homes, and hospitals were targeted by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a largely successful attempt to get citizens to flee. The primary focus, drawn from hundreds of hours of footage shot between 2016 and 2018, is on the physician Amani Ballour. I’ve rarely seen a more inspiring figure in a movie.

In a culture where women are routinely subjugated, the irony here is that Ballour, along with several other prominently featured female physicians and nurses, worked below ground as equals alongside their male counterparts in a way they would never be allowed above ground. Desperation and expediency leveled the playing field.

Ballour was also the hospital’s manager, leading to some intense resistance from those who couldn’t abide a woman in a position of such authority. In one standoff, the husband of a wounded woman tells Ballour that women should only be wives and mothers.

Ballour will have none of it. “No one tells me what to do,” she says. She condemns men who use religion as a “tool” for the oppression of women. For those rare women whose husbands and fathers allow it, she offers hospital jobs to provide crucial income. 

She speaks to her parents periodically on her cellphone, and we hear some of the conversations. Her father worries deeply about her. She consoles him with the rightness of what she is doing, even though, privately, speaking of the wounded, she wonders, “How much can I really help them?” and questions why people in Syria continue to have children at all. You can appreciate her concerns. The most powerful images in “The Cave” are of the baffled and injured children in the hospital. Their faces sear the screen.

Ballour has the staunch support of Salim Namour, the hospital’s chief surgeon, who promoted her to the manager’s job and clearly admires her. He is another of the film’s extraordinary heroes: In the makeshift operating room, often without access to anesthesia or adequate supplies, he soothes the patients with classical music, such as Mozart’s “Requiem,” that he streams from his smartphone.

Because he made a documentary about an exiled Syrian poet’s struggle for freedom of expression, Fayyad in 2011 was imprisoned and tortured for 15 months. Unable to participate directly in the filming of “The Cave” because of the siege, he enlisted three intrepid cinematographers – Muhammed Khair Al Shami, Ammar Sulaiman, and Mohammed Eyad – and worked remotely with them to shape and edit the footage, which utilizes no voice-over narration or direct-to-camera interviews. The dangers in making this movie are obviously ever-present. Chemical weapons attacks and Russian war planes have reduced the aboveground terrain to rubble and continually threaten the subterranean hospital. The film ends with the hospital’s shutdown following the Assad government’s regained control of the region.

This ending should be devastating – it is devastating – but what I took away from “The Cave” was the resilience of the hospital workers, especially Ballour, who vows to return to Syria when the regime changes. (According to the film’s production notes, she currently lives in Turkey.) She has said that she agreed to participate in this film because she wanted the truth of what was happening to be known. She is particularly supportive of the young girls she treats in the hospital. To one of them she says, “We don’t have to be ordinary. We have to be something important.”

It is left to her father to offer the most resonant of consolations. “People,” he tells her, “will forget the war at some point but they will never forget you. I am proud of you.” 

In Arabic and English with English subtitles. Rated PG-13 for disturbing war-related thematic content and images.

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The Monitor's View

Sweet uses of adversity for African entrepreneurs

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A quarter century after the dawn of the internet, Africa still faces big obstacles in tapping its digital potential. Yet in spite of the obstacles – or perhaps because of them – a rising number of innovators are coming up with creative devices and services. This is no surprise to one of Africa’s most famous technology entrepreneurs, Juliana Rotich of Kenya. This week she was honored with the German Africa Prize. To her, adversity and constraints are a resource for innovation.

Take her first breakthrough, a crowdsourcing platform called Ushahidi, or “witness” in Swahili. It allows users to upload information about events tied to a specific location. It was first introduced in 2007 to track violence during postelection riots in Kenya. It has since found uses in many countries to provide instant reporting on natural disasters or to monitor elections.

Ms. Rotich is just one of thousands in Africa who see hurdles as handy for inspiration. The digital revolution is just starting on the continent. Yet as the new flow of information helps deepen connections, she says, it provides “a true exploration of who we are.”

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Sweet uses of adversity for African entrepreneurs

A quarter century after the dawn of the internet, Africa still faces big obstacles in tapping its digital potential. Only about a third of the continent’s 1.4 billion people have access to broadband. Power outages are common. The median cost of an entry-level internet-enabled device eats up 40% of average monthly income. And in at least six countries this year, rulers have temporarily shut down the internet for political reasons.

Yet in spite of such obstacles – or perhaps because of them – a rising number of innovators are coming up with creative devices and services, often useful to the rest of the world. In announcing its 2019 list of “Africa Innovators” last month, for example, the Quartz global news site noted, “We were often struck not just by their ideas but also by the creative thinking required to get around their local obstacles.”

This is no surprise to one of Africa’s most famous technology entrepreneurs, Juliana Rotich of Kenya. This week she was honored with the German Africa Prize, an award given out each year to an outstanding person from Africa. To her, adversity and constraints are a resource for innovation.

Take her first breakthrough, a crowdsourcing platform called Ushahidi, or “witness” in Swahili. It allows users to upload photos and information about events tied to a specific location. It was first introduced in 2007 to track violence during postelection riots in Kenya that were barely covered by local media. It has since found uses in many countries to provide instant reporting on natural disasters or to monitor elections.

Ms. Rotich also tackled Africa’s lack of electricity and internet access by coming up with a battery-operated modem-router that can function as a source for Wi-Fi for up to eight hours without electric power. It is now used in more than 100 countries.

And she tapped into another of Africa’s distinct conditions: its high degree of collaboration when dealing with adversity. She co-founded iHub, a company assisting startups anywhere in the world on a platform that encourages entrepreneurs to share and engage with each other. Its mantra: “As long as you’re good and awesome, we don’t care where you live.”

Ms. Rotich is just one of thousands in Africa who see hurdles as handy for inspiration. The digital revolution is just starting on the continent. Yet as the new flow of information helps deepen connections, she says, it provides “a true exploration of who we are.”

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

What’s our role in supporting wise and good government?

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Many politicians frequently seem to have abandoned their civility in debating with one another, and the rest of us often have to refrain from discussing the issues to avoid doing the same. But prayer affirming the wisdom of God’s government opens the door for more civility, justice, and solutions to problems.

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What’s our role in supporting wise and good government?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Recently, when I’ve met with friends and family in the UK, we’ve laughingly said, “Don’t mention the ‘B word,’ ” meaning “Brexit,” the process to implement the 2016 referendum decision for the UK to leave the European Union. Most everyone appears to be frustrated by the ceaseless twists and turns in a situation that has potentially enormous ramifications for the UK, Europe, and the world.

As a concerned citizen and a student of the Bible, I’ve been praying to better understand God’s good government and how such prayer can contribute to calm and justice in these situations. A letter in the Bible to an early Christian worker named Timothy, a well-loved coworker of the Apostle Paul, provides a helpful starting point. It includes this: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior” (I Timothy 2:1-3, New Living Translation). God’s government of us all enables all leaders to be open to divine leading, whether I agree with their political stance or not.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, deeply loved the Bible, and in her main work, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she provides a spiritual sense of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” are rendered as “Enable us to know, – as in heaven, so on earth, – God is omnipotent, supreme” (p. 17). Praying to see that God is the all-powerful divine Mind and that Mind’s will and purpose, which are always good, are ultimately supreme, has enabled me to feel more balanced and calm in the current political situation.

But what if political leaders don’t seem to be open to this higher wisdom, or are even perceived as being untruthful? Praying further, I recalled a situation I was involved in some years ago. Working as a property surveyor and case worker for the UK government, I was managing a case in which the owners were disputing tax due on a commercial property. The case had been referred to a tribunal. As the case worker, I had met with the owners a number of times to try and resolve their dispute with the government and, finally, to agree among the three of us on facts to be presented to the tribunal.

The owners had seemed to me to be not only less than helpful but also deliberately obstructive. In preparing the case, I had the property remeasured (with the owners present) to ensure that the correct factual information could be provided to the tribunal members.

On the day of the hearing, the two owners wished to present their evidence separately from each other. As I started to question the first individual during the hearing, he gave false information to the tribunal. I tried to get him to clarify to the tribunal members what he was saying, but he persisted in his version of the “facts.” I was shocked at what appeared to be falsifying evidence to a legal tribunal, and I momentarily felt completely helpless.

I didn’t know what to do. But I did reach out to God quietly before I started to question the second owner. Two passages from Science and Health came to mind: “Innocence and Truth overcome guilt and error” (p. 568), and “Honesty is spiritual power” (p. 453). I felt peaceful, with a strong trust in God’s answer to prayer.

As the second owner began to speak, he suddenly changed what he had started to say and shared information that contradicted what the other owner had said in front of the tribunal. The chair of the tribunal stopped him and asked him to repeat what he was saying, and again the second owner confirmed that my evidence was correct.

The resultant tribunal decision was just and fair. More important, though, the experience taught me that God’s laws are always governing and that God’s justice is wise and powerful.

That powerful glimpse of God’s justice prevailing has encouraged me in my prayers about current government situations. We may be feeling mentally at a loss, cast down, or persecuted, but God’s law of love ensures we will not be helpless, hemmed in, deserted, left behind, or even destroyed by whatever we are facing, including what may seem distressing to us in a current political situation.

Since we’re created by God, the only jurisdiction under which we all live is God’s government, which includes His law of infinite good. As we work to acknowledge and more deeply understand God’s government, we can expect to see increasing evidence of God’s law of good. Civility, justice, fairness, and appropriate resolutions can become more apparent as we sincerely and impartially “pray for … all who are in authority.”

Adapted from an article published on sentinel.christianscience.com, Oct. 21, 2019.

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Viewfinder

The tortoise as the hare

Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/AP
Donna the tortoise crawls on the Fantasy Fest Pet Masquerade stage in Key West, Florida, Oct. 23, 2019, costumed as characters from the classic fable "The Tortoise and the Hare."
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 25th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when our Taylor Luck looks at a widespread, nonpolitical movement growing among young Arabs yearning for real economic and social change.   

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 24, 2019
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